Entertainment Music 01 Mar 2016 The sound of Karsh

The sound of Karsh

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | SNEHA K SUKUMAR
Published Mar 1, 2016, 12:19 am IST
Updated Mar 1, 2016, 12:19 am IST
Karsh Kale (Photo: ANJA MATTHES)
 Karsh Kale (Photo: ANJA MATTHES)

Some 15 years ago, a tabla player became an icon at clubs and rose to the status of being a pioneer of Asian underground music. Successfully straddling the worlds of classical and modern music in what’s an inspiring East-meets-West tale, Karsh Kale has since created a space that is distinctly his own.

This is the life he chronicles in his crackling new album Up, something that he gave a taste of at The Lost Party in the Sahyadris, with a touch of heavy bass and electronica.

An album that is quintessentially Karsh, Up encapsulates his philosophy towards making music, not bound by a genre and making music with people who share his vision. “As an artiste, I was not being brought over to simply do the same thing over and over, but rather, each trip called upon a new transformation,” says the 41-year-old. Karsh has strived to reinvent the wheel while staying steadfast to his sound even if it meant taking on various roles — a tabla player, a DJ, a drummer, a keyboard player and a singer. “Sometimes I feel empowered and feel like I can do all of it at the same time. I think that when you are younger, you seem to have the energy to do three different things at the same time. As you get older and better, the harder it gets.

The more the instrument reveals to you,” he tells us. But the self-taught musician confesses that there were times when he wished he had a guru only because he thought he wasn’t learning enough! “When I say that I’m self-taught, I have spent hours listening to different types of music, slowing things down and figuring them out. One advice I’d give is to study music. The failure is that if you’re looking to make a style of music, for example like techno, and you listen to only techno. That’s a recipe for failure,” he says.   

The NYU alumnus must have picked up more than a thing or two because he has multiple feathers in his cap — collaborating with greats like Pt Ravi Shankar and his daughters Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones, Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Sting, Herbie Hancock and Alicia Keys, and performing at the White House.

“Standing and seeing my album up on the wall at the Smithsonian as part of the exhibition, ‘Beyond Bollywood’… that was a very proud moment,” he says.

Speaking about Bollywood, Karsh says its music is not even close to what was being made in the ’50s, ’60s or the ’70s. “I think film music has become homogenised. There’s no difference between a Justin Bieber song and a Bollywood track and a pop song. Everyone’s using the same technology and that’s why they all sound the same. I find that disappointing,” he admits.
After performing at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Outlawed, The Great Indian Golchakkar Festival and at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, Karsh is now looking forward to unwinding with his friends. “Most of them are musicians so these are moments we get to inspire each other when we aren’t in the studio or on the stage. We regress to when we first started out,” he smiles.

After this, he’s off to tour the US. But like any other performer, he wishes he could spend more time with his family. “That’s the other story of my life,” he says. His daughter Milan seems to steadily be following in his footsteps too. “Last year, I was playing at a festival in Massachusetts and she got on stage and sang with me. Who knows, maybe I will start accompanying her for shows next!” says the doting father.    

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